The New Masters of Hugo's
In 2009 and 2010, cooks Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor, and Mike Wiley convened, one by one, in the kitchen of Hugo’s restaurant to work with award winning chef Rob Evans. Little did they know that within a few years they would take the reigns from their mentor and preside over one of Portland's finest culinary institutions. As new owners, Wiley, Smith, and Taylor not only have the difficult task of preserving what has made Hugo's special for over a decade, but they are in the process of opening up an oyster bar next door under the name Eventide.
Each of their backgrounds adds something new and exciting to both restaurants. Smith was trained at the highly regarded Culinary Institute of America while both Taylor and Wiley had academic credentials before the magnetism of chefdom took hold. Taylor holds a master in rhetoric from Colby and Wiley carries a degree in economics from Bates.
Taylor gained his gastronomic footing under the tutelage of Seattle chef Thierry Rautureau (Luc and Rover’s) followed by a stint at the highly regarded Clio in Boston. Wiley put in time at various restaurants out west including Black Cat FarmTable Bistro in Boulder, Colorado — one of the pivotal progenitors of farm to table cooking.
They all had connections to Maine, and when Evans won his James Beard award in 2009, they came to see what Hugo's and the Portland food scene were all about.
Taylor and Wiley are the chefs who have, for the last three years, mentored under Evans novel culinary methods. His technique “gets out of modern food,” Smith commented during a recent visit I had with this trio. Smith manages the front of the house, which is a vital job for any restaurant worthy of a James Beard award.
“After the award,” Taylor recounts, “Hugo’s took off and it’s been a success ever since.”
Part of that success comes from using Maine’s vast cache of local foods, a regimen that many restaurant kitchens in Maine follow strongly.
“It’s incredible the wealth of heritage foods that are available in Maine by local producers,” Wiley said. Indeed the concept of farm to table cookery is standard fare for Maine chefs nowadays and has been for some time. “What we do with it in the kitchen is another story altogether,” Wiley added with a wry smile. Hugo's is known as much for its fresh ingredients as its use of food science and application of sous vide, pressure cooking, and other inventive techniques.
This trio is already looking beyond the confines of Hugo’s with another restaurant in the works. It will be a venture called Eventide, which is revving up in the newly vacated Rabelais books store space next door. Essentially it’s an oyster bar, and as Arlin Smith pointed out, “Most people don’t realize that Maine has some really great local oysters.”
He adds, “It will be a fresh approach to a New England style oyster bar.”
It will include all manner of fish preparations, mostly raw, like crudos, but fish stews, soups and small main dishes will be part of the mix.
“Approachable food,” Smith calls it.
What’s happened, too, is that this part of Middle Street that skirts the Old Port has become a formidable restaurant row: Hugo’s, DuckFat, Ribollita, East Ender, the Pepper Club and Eventide comprise the line up.
“Diners can graze from one to the other,” Taylor said. That means you can start off at Eventide for drinks and oyster shooters, have meatier food at the East Ender and wind up at Hugo’s or Eventide’s bar for the grand finale.”
A finale, indeed.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org